The more frustrated the Italian grew at his team's dishevelled display, the more clothes he discarded. Midway through the first half he hurled his coat into the dugout, early in the second he jettisoned his suit jacket, so when Lee Cook scored what turned out to be the winning goal for Leyton Orient in the 59th minute, the pitchside photographers who track Di Canio's every strop began to look forward to a bumper payday.
"I was very hot and not just because of the weather," said Di Canio, who resisted the urge to remove any further garments, although he did twice have to be spoken to by the referee for stomping onto the pitch to complain about time-wasting as the minutes ticked away. "But I throw my jacket around [rather] than treat my players that way," reasoned the manager, which is not to say he refrained from tearing strips of his squad after what he described as Swindon's worst performance in his 15-month tenure at the club.
Di Canio has emerged as one of the most interesting managerial prospects in England since surprisingly taking charge at the Country Ground – and the intrigue is set to grow now that his team have lost three matches in a row for the first time in his reign. How he responds to this adversity will be fascinating, as will his players' reaction to his response.
The manager has publicly lambasted several members of his squad already this season, but despite deteriorating performances, he has no intention of sparing their feelings now. "I don't change, they have to change," said Di Canio before pointing out that last season's surge to the League Two title began after he publicly denounced the players as "Chihuahuas" following a meek start to that campaign. He has, however, made one concession to the squad, reluctantly granting them [Sunday] off after three matches in six days.
"After an empty performance they say they need a day off and I say 'OK, if that is the magic potion to help us win at Carlisle next week, you can have it'. But that is also a sign of a weak mentality. I would also like a day off but I work 24 hours a day to get better. I analyse myself and they need to analyse themselves too. Maybe I overestimated them after our good start to the season."
And what a good start it was. Swindon won four of their first five matches after last season's excellent promotion, the most recent victory, just two weeks ago, being a 4-3 triumph over Stoke City in the League Cup. But the manager turned as soon as results went bad, ridiculing the goalkeeper Wes Foderingham after last week's 4-1 defeat at Preston and blaming the defender Aden Flint for the mid-week elimination from the Johnstone's Paint Trophy by local rivals Oxford United. Both those players say they have accepted the manager's comments, but Di Canio's challenging methods have led to fall-outs with several players, notably Leon Clarke, the striker who left within two weeks of joining last season, following a fight with the manager, and Paul Caddis, the erstwhile captain who was loaned out to Birmingham after a dispute with Di Canio in the summer. "The manager has a right to be upset with us after that one," said the midfielder Raffaele De Vita after the latest defeat.
Orient arrived at Swindon without a point to their name this season, but it was the hosts who looked short of confidence as the visitors were sharper and more cohesive. Only shoddy finishing by Cook and Kevin Lisbie prevented Orient from taking the lead in a first half in which Swindon did not have a shot on target despite their most creative player, Matt Ritchie, returning from injury after missing the last two defeats.
Swindon improved slightly in the second period and Ritchie twice forced saves with snapshots. But Orient responded and seized the lead just before the hour mark when Danny Cox slashed a cross from Leon McSweeney into the path of Cook, who was unmarked as he fired into the net from six yards. Di Canio made three substitutions in an attempt to get back into the game and one of them, Adam Rooney, should have equalised in the 66th minute. Collecting a flick-on from a throw-in, the striker held off the defender but steered a low shot wide with only the goalkeeper to beat.
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image: © SMN